William Johnston's favorite color was red, which also was the color of his hair. So when friends and family packed River Ridge Covenant Church on Sunday to remember the North Thurston High School student, many wore the color to symbolize a life that had showed much compassion, love and promise.
Johnston, 18, died Tuesday evening when he lost control of the car he was driving and it struck a power pole on Hawks Prairie Road and crashed into a fence. Speed was a factor in the crash, according to the Washington State Patrol. Johnston’s two passengers sustained minor injuries and were in attendance for the memorial service.
On a table, Johnston’s family displayed some photos and his baseball jersey and bats. A slide show revealed baby photos, candid moments with family and friends, and his evolution as a baseball player.
His mother, Carrol Johnston, shared stories of her son’s low-key demeanor when it came to planning birthday parties and how he was always a little embarrassed when she cheered too loud at his games. She also noted that, while her son’s death was the end of the Johnston namesake, a legacy runs much deeper than a name.
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“It’s about who you are and the lives you touched,” she said. “And as William would say, ‘It’s all about how you roll.’”
She also thanked the hundreds in attendance for their love and support over the past week.
“We really couldn’t have asked for anything better.”
Some of those who came to celebrate Johnston’s life knew him long before he was a star high school athlete with aspirations of playing professionally– including his fifth-grade teacher, Wade Kiekhaefer.
He recalled the boy with “flaming red hair and full of life” dressed in a garbage bag playing poker during a field trip to Montana.
“Thank you for sharing your boy,” he told the Johnston family.
Sunday’s memorial service capped off an emotional week for the student body at North Thurston. They gathered for a prayer vigil the night after the crash before heading to visit the crash site. There were also tributes to Johnston at school and at Friday’s football game.
Between tears, Johnston’s friends shared memories of late nights playing videogames, after-school study sessions and trips to fast food restaurants during lunch.
He was the kind of friend who would get you to where you needed to go and would lend money if you needed a few bucks for lunch, they said.
Described as reliable, unwavering and, sometimes, “too nice,” many, like neighbor and friend Kelsea Rothaus, said Johnston left a legacy that they all must continue.
“Now it’s our turn,” she said. “We gotta take care of each other.”
Forrest Graeber, one of the passengers in the car, talked of how the two felt like family, hanging out nearly every single weekend for the past two years.
“He was like a brother,” he said. “He was that close, and I really loved him.”
Nate Hulings:360-754-5476 firstname.lastname@example.org